According to David Riggs, "Queen Elizabeth I herself was said to have pronounced Christopher Marlowe's death sentence ('prosecute it to the full') at court. A few days later, on 30 May 1593, Marlowe died from a puncture wound above the eye in the nearby home of a genteel widow." So opens his 2004 biography The World of Christopher Marlowe, but in my opinion these statements are almost entirely wrong.
Of course, we Marlovians do not accept that Marlowe really died then, his death having been faked, and it was a Marlovian (William Honey) who first pointed out that the court was not at "nearby" Greenwich, as Riggs and all other biographers apparently thought, but 13 miles away at Nonsuch in Surrey. This is not all that Riggs has wrong, however. I would argue that the Queen's command had nothing to do with Marlowe.
The source of Riggs's statement is the letter written by Thomas Drury to Anthony Bacon on 1 August 1593 in which he wrote: "Then after all this there was by my only means set down unto the Lord Keeper (and) the Lord of Buckhurst the notablest and vilest articles of Atheism that I suppose the like was never known or read of in any age all which I can show unto you they were delivered to her highness and command given by her self to prosecute it to the full..."
There has been almost unanimous agreement among biographers that the "vilest articles of Atheism" he is talking about must be the so-called Baines Note. This does appear to have gone to Lord Keeper Puckering, it was indeed sent to "her highness," it followed a meeting of Drury with Baines, and it certainly fitted his description. Until now, I have nevertheless found it difficult to accept this for three reasons.
Firstly, the dates are wrong. We have a copy of what was actually sent to Her Highness, and it includes the news of the "sudden and fearful end" of Marlowe's life. So why would she want it "prosecuted to the full," as Riggs suggests, if he was already dead?
Second, just before the "vilest articles" bit in his letter Drury had been telling of "a notable villain or two which are close prisoners and bad matters against them of an exceeding nature," which is generally believed to concern Richard Cholmeley and his atheistic "crew." Immediately after it he goes on talking about "this damnable sect" concerning the same subject, so the Baines Note (concerned almost entirely with Marlowe's doings) doesn't seem to fit there at all.
Third, there is another document which is by the same author as the "Remembrances" on Cholmeley (presumed to be Drury) which continues the accusations against him - so better suits its position in this letter - and which also fits the "vilest articles of atheism" description just as well. The problem with this one, however, is that it was sent to someone he calls "your worship," a form of address unsuitable for either the Lord Keeper or Lord Buckhurst, and which therefore seems to have been intended for Justice Young instead.
How then to find the concord of this discord? The best answer I can come up with (as I partly suggested here in my item "Marlowe and the Privy Council") is that Drury obtained the "Note" from Baines and passed it on to Lord Keeper Puckering, whilst making a copy for himself and using it as the basis for his letter to Justice Young. What is of the greatest importance to him is the "Cholmeley question," however, so that as far as he is concerned the Baines Note is really just a sort of appendix to his Remembrances, giving futher information about the sort of things which Cholmeley and his gang must have believed and said because of Marlowe's influence. So in his mind the Remembrances and the Baines Note are lumped together, and it is only their relevance to the Cholmeley matter which he is thinking of when he says that the Queen said that it should be prosecuted to the full.
Furthermore, if Lord Keeper Puckering saw it in much the same way, it would very well explain the bits he chose to remove from the Baines Note - the "tobacco and boys," the "right to coin," and the "great men" witnesses. Looking at them from this point of view, we can see that all of those bits which were deleted are those which have no apparent relevance to Cholmeley and his crew's atheism. This would also provide one explanation for the Baines Note being sent to her even after Marlowe's supposed death.
© Peter Farey, 2011
Peter Farey's essay “Hoffman and the Authorship” is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.E
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